Adebayo Akande Faleti was not the type of man that should die soon. Lovers of Yoruba tradition and culture, younger artistes and students of Yoruba Language and history would especially agree.
He was an embodiment of everything that is Yoruba culture and tradition. A renowned poet, broadcaster, playwright and custodian of culture, he was called to glory on Sunday, aged 86.
But Alagba Faleti, popular for his ‘Kelenusonu’ (translated to ‘watch your mouth’) traditional trademark cap, has many sides; his many intriguing and inspiring stories are unknown to millions of his fans.
CONTENTIOUS BIRTH DATE
Faleti was born in Agbo-Oye, Oyo State, though lived in Obananko, Kuranga, near Oyo State. He was the first son of his father, Joseph Akanbi Faleti and the only child of his mother, Durowade Ayinke Faleti. From an early age he had always had a passion for drama.
When his death was announced on Sunday, Alagba Adebayo Faleti was said to be 86 years old. But according to him, nobody wrote down anything when he was born.
“When they wanted to calculate my age in the primary school, it was put at 1930. After I left the primary school, I didn’t go to the secondary school immediately,” he said.
“I was teaching and moving here and there. If you wanted to sit for the Cambridge School Certificate Examination in those days, you would be required to declare your age and if you were above a particular age, you would not be allowed to sit for the examination.
“So, my declaration of age indicated that I was born in 1935. But I later thought that it was unnecessary, having jumped that hurdle. I remember that when we were processing the Cambridge School Certificate Examination, my principal then was Mr. Chukwuka Okonjo, who is the father of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. He was a great disciplinarian, but we all loved him.
“He asked me how old I was and I replied that I was born in 1935. So, he shouted, ‘Are you saying you are 15 now?’ But I said that was what was put in my Standard 6 certificate.”
TEACHING BEFORE UNIVERSITY
Unlike many of his peers, ‘Debayo’, as his father called him, did not go to a secondary school immediately after his primary education. He took up a teaching appointment as a pupil teacher in Oke-Odan in 1946. But he would leave Oke-Odan after a quarter for Oyo. The Catholics invited him again as a teacher and posted him to Ejio, a town in Oyo State.
He was bored and wanted to further his education. And he eventually attended the University of Dakar in Senegal and obtained a Certificate of proficiency in French Language and Civilization. Two years later, he graduated from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, with an honours degree in English. In 1971, he attended the Radio Netherlands Training Centre in Hilversum, the Netherlands, and received a certificate in Television Production.
A SOLDIER THAT NEVER WAS
Not many knew that the late poet wanted to be a soldier. A son of a traditionalist, he couldn’t go to either the Catholic or a Baptist College when he decided to go back to school after his stint with teaching.
“But my father was not a Christian,” he said. “He was not a Catholic, so he couldn’t send me to a Catholic college and he wasn’t a Baptist, so he couldn’t send me to a Baptist College either.”
He relocated to Ibadan in search of a job with his Standard 6 certificate, which was a big deal then. Without informing his father, his sojourn in Ibadan was more adventure to him. At a time, he wanted to be a soldier. According to him, he went for the interview in Ibadan. He was not enlisted into the Army. Why? His chest was not wide enough.
FALETI THE HOUSE BOY
He moved from Ibadan to Oyo unfulfilled but he would soon elope to Ibadan again and without telling his father. “People were searching for a job for me and eventually, they got me a job as a house boy,” he said.
While serving his master, a cocoa inspector, his father came looking for him from Oyo and met him riding a bicycle behind his boss at Gbagi.
“One day, as I was riding the bicycle through Gbagi Street, my father suddenly crossed out on me and said, ‘Debayo’. Ha, I was surprised to see him! His cousin, who came with him, was also surprised and that was how he gave me the mandate to come back to Oyo before that year’s Christmas — and I did,” he said.
“Having been a teacher in three schools, he didn’t mind being a houseboy. I was told my father said one day in Oyo that he was going to look for me and would find me, though he didn’t know where I was living. So, he came to Ibadan on a certain day accompanied by his cousin.
“By that time, I had got a job as a house help and I usually followed my boss to his office at Jerico, where he was a cocoa inspector. He lived at Ita-Ege, but worked at Jerico. He had a bicycle, which I usually rode to meet him at his office. Then, when he closed, he would go back home on his motorcycle, while I rode behind him on the bicycle.”
JOURNEY INTO ENTERTAINMENT
While in Ibadan before he took up the job of a domestic servant, Adebayo, whose father was proficient in Yoruba language and culture, had apprenticed himself to a sign writer. His boss was an Ijebu man who had a drama group.
He would later go back to Oyo, and rented a shop called Kani Su’ru Art Studio. There and then, he founded his own drama group called Oyo Youths Operatic Society. “And I was lucky that my father didn’t discourage me” he said. His first ever stage play was titled ‘Suuru ati Ogbon’.
TRANSLATOR OF NATIONAL ANTHEM TO YORUBA
He was responsible for translating the national anthem from English to Yoruba. He also translated speeches by Ibrahim Babangida, former Military President, and Ernest Shonekan, Head of Interim National Government, from English to Yoruba.
Faleti published a dictionary containing the formal or official use of Yoruba names. He received many awards, both locally and internationally, including the national honour of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON), the Festival of Arts award with ‘Eda Ko L’aropin’ and the Afro-Hollywood Award for Outstanding Performance in Arts.
HIS FINAL MOMENTS
The Punch newspaper reported that one of his sons, Adeniyi, revealed that he was helping his father with his bath when he died.
According to him, his father observed the early morning devotion with his family members and soon after told them that he had prayed to God to send someone else to continue his mission as he was tired and longing for home.
Adeniyi said, “After the morning devotion, I helped him to the bathroom as I normally did. He said he wanted God to send someone else to come and complete his work because he had done all he could do.
“He also said that he wanted to go home. Suddenly, I noticed that he was not breathing again. We took him to the University College Hospital, Ibadan, where he was confirmed dead. We shall miss him greatly.”